Forepaper by Bill
|Issues to Explore |
|The Romance of Lost Causes|
The Romance of Lost Causes is a hypertext novel posing as a collection of digitized artifacts -- mostly writings, but also a few images and possibly sounds -- gathered from the life of a failing liberal arts college some ten years ago.
So far it comprises only about a dozen nodes, in which are found a description of a missing photograph, letters, apparent journal entries, e-mail correspondence, a poem, a memo, and a screenshot, with a couple provisional illustrations done by a friend who'd read an early draft.
There are two main story "lobes" emerging in the present form of Romance. One concerns an incident at Commencement, when, in the middle of the keynote address, a naked young man runs through the crowd and drives a spear into the ground just in front of the speaker's platform, then bolts off before anyone can catch him. The other principal storyline -- if it can be called that -- consists of a longish discourse, in the form of e-mail, on the subject alluded to in the title: what it is that makes people persist in a doomed enterprise, in this case the college where the two correspondents used to teach.
These artifacts are the work of several authors, and some of them are described in each other's writings. Only the two e-mail exiles, who refer to themselves as Castor and Pollux, are currently developed in any depth, but other characters can be discerned as it were lurking in the bushes: the young "savage" with the spear; the sunny "Lady Dean" who was absolutely thrilled by his spectacular gesture; the Chief of Security, who almost got his gun out in time; a professor who is probably coming unhinged; a latter-day hippie poet, who meets a mysterious end; the saucy senior editor of the student LitMag, who seems to be sleeping with her faculty advisor (and may be blackmailing him about it); and others.
A draft of The Romance of Lost Causes was started for Rob Kendall's Hypertext Poetry and Fiction Class at the New School, which I was taking in the fall of 1995, but time ran out before I could finish it. However, consumed by guilt and having found a little free time the following January, I did manage to complete a Mac/Storyspace version, which I sent to a few friends, among them former classmate Rosemary Passantino, who created the cool illustrations found in Prof_Cuts_Grass.html and P_to_C.html.
Last summer, in the wake of the first Media Morphing Messages workshop at HT97, I created an HTML version for reading and critique by members of the new Hypertext Writers Workshop. Since then, new material has been added, but very little of the original text has been modified, and no changes have been made to the visual aspects of the hypertext.
Although always intended for the Web, the structure of Romance was first designed in Storyspace, then the hypertext was exported to HTML and uploaded to the Web.
Further development has been taking place directly in HTML, and I expect that, unless the structure suddenly becomes much more complex, the process will continue in this way.
The present navigation strategy is much like that in a Storyspace stand-alone hypertext: each page has a few text links that take the reader to another node, and there is also a kind of navigation bar along the bottom consisting of Back, Previous, and Home buttons, which can be created when exporting from Storyspace to HTML.
Admittedly, this system is primitive, but until the overall size and shape of the hypertext becomes clearer to me, it seems best to keep things as they are, though more text links could be added in the meantime.
However, the original concept for the structure of Romance was a bestiary (A is for Administrator, B is for Budget, C is for Curriculum, and so on), an idea that may have come from reading the bestiaries of Edward Gorey. Unfortunately, the composing process so far has been too diffuse, and the actual writings too diverse, for the bestiary idea to be much help in organizing them. Once there is more material, it may be possible to reintroduce this concept, perhaps as a navigation strategy.
One question that fascinates me is the relationship between the navigation system of a hypertext and the narrative strategy of the story told by the hypertext. In this piece, for instance, the narrator can be imagined as the person who collected these artifacts and arranged them in this way for the reader to find. A great deal can be deduced about this narrator by examining and pondering the interface of the hypertext, and by asking such questions as: Who would do such a thing? In such a way? For what reason(s)?
But actually there are three persons outlined here: the narrator, the author (as different from the narrator as Herman Melville is from Ishmael), and the reader, for whom all things have been prepared and accomplished. The interface of a hypertext provides an additional dimension to narrative strategy in fiction, and I'm interested in pursuing this concept further in The Romance of Lost Causes.
The dialogue between Castor and Pollux constitutes a kind of double-rant against, among other things, institutional education. In the course of their "debate," they address topics as diverse as the subjective experience of time, the mid-life crisis, the use and abuse of language, the meaning of friendship -- and its opposite, institutional loyalty -- and, of course, the apparently irresistible impulse to beat a dead horse.
This could be heavy going at times, and I'm interested to discover how much of this kind of discourse can be tolerated in a work of fiction these days. Naturally, the quality of the writing itself is extremely important (I'm doing the best I can!), but I'm also keen to explore how rendering such material into hypertext form can make it easier or harder to follow -- and hopefully to enjoy -- what otherwise might seem dry and, well, academic.
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